All saddle-up as Gaultier takes bow at Hermes

Eight proud horsemen cantered round a sandy ring to the clap of flamenco, under crystal chandeliers, as Jean Paul Gaultier took Paris to the pampa on Wednesday, and bowed out as the designer for Hermes.

Like a ringmaster, the first model walked out in chest-to-toe black leather, cravache in hand, with riding boots and flat-topped, round-brimmed gaucho hat, before a packed Fashion Week audience that included Janet Jackson.

Showcasing his last collection for the house on the final day of the ready-to-wear shows, Gaultier worked within Hermes' historic codes - with leather at the core - but spirited them to a Latin land.

"It's Argentina, it was all about the pampa," the designer told reporters afterwards. "It's beautiful, it's sexy, it's tango."

Little boleros were worn over sand-coloured tight jodhpurs tucked into riding boots, and hair was tressed in loose plaits, while tuxedo-style pants were black with a caramel stripe.

There were leather jacket-and-shorts suits, worn with the ubiquitous flat-topped hat slung back on a string, and suede all-in-ones tailored close to the body and tucked into boots.

Gaultier's palette was black, with thick leather in tones of mahogany and rust, sand, the occasional splash of green galuchat shark leather.

There were also bright bursts of orange, a trademark Hermes colour and favourite this season, in light, floaty fabrics that recalled the house's classic scarves.

But the designer's own universe was there too: in a toffee-coloured waistcoat worn over bare skin, with an X shaped strap at the front, or in thick leather corsets cut from rib to hip, over leggings or a sheer, flowing skirt.

Or the ringmaster - the American model Karlie Kross whose face has marked the fashion season - who reappeared in a black waistcoast, still wielding a whip but this time with a riding skirt that swept around the front of the legs.

And Gaultier's muse of the past 30 years, Farida Khelfa, closed the show in the lastest example of a trend for inviting veteran models back on the catwalks.

Gaultier said afterwards he was not "nostalgic" to leave Hermes.

"Of course I'm a little sad, just like after any show," he said. "It's the end of a wonderful love story of seven years. But it's fantastic because it's finishing well, on a good collection."

After growing up in the working-class suburb of Arcueil, he said it had been an education to find himself at Hermes, "at the heart of the Faubourg Saint Honore," Parisian hub of luxury.

"I learned, I respected the codes," said the designer. "It is a house with incredible know-how and technique. But I didn't betray who I was either."

Earlier at Louis Vuitton, a multi-themed show pulled in references to the animal kingdom, to China, to the sequins and dress-styles of the 1920s, and to disco accessories.

Weaving between three fake tigers perched at the end of the stage, a first model stepped out in a black Chinese silk dress, the skirt split high and embroidered with sequins.

Followed a bare-backed Charleston dress with gold gypsy fringes and spaghetti straps, worn with delicate red-heeled sandals, in a see-through fabric that offered a peek at a pair of deep purple knickers.

Then came the animals. First in glitter on short knitted sweaters, then hinted at in zebra stripes of red and black, navy and turquoise or gold and black like a tiger.

And finally, a black-and-white jumpsuit with matching cape represented a zebra's face, or a trouser suit with a sparkling giraffe or panda motif on the blouse.

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